Hot Docs 2012: The Invisible War

Yesterday, The Invisible War has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. This review was originally posted April 30, 2011.

They say 500,000 women have been raped while serving in the U.S. military. So there's going to be a lot of swearing in this review. HALF A FUCKING MILLION WOMEN. Based on statistics from the Department Of Defense, it seems that tens of thousands of soldiers are being sexually assaulted every year. Men and women both. Raped by the people who they literally trusted with their lives. If you're a female soldier, there's a greater chance that you're going to be raped than killed by enemy fire. And a greater chance that you'll suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder than you'd have after seeing combat. If you've tried to report it, there's a one-in-four chance that the guy you were supposed to report it to was the guy who raped you. And as The Invisible War shows — in exhausting, devastating, really fucking upsetting interviews with some of the survivors, related experts and infuriatingly clueless Pentagon officials — the military has made a vile habit of blaming the victims. The vast majority of the time, the rapists get to keep climbing the ranks. The people they raped — who they fucking raped, maybe drugged and beat — well, they, like far too many rape victims in the world, are told they're being too sensitive, or that they were asking for it, or that they made it all up. They're frequently driven out of the military altogether, left without a career or the medical and psychological support they desperately need.

The power of The Invisible War — and ohhhhhhhh is it ever powerful — comes from combining those staggering statistics with the stories of the people behind them. There's the Marine from the corps' most elite unit who was ordered to drink all night, and then raped, and then charged with adultery and conduct unbecoming. (Not her fucking rapist, HER.) There's Kori Cioca, whose rapist hit her in the face so hard that she still suffers chronic pain — can't even leave the house when it's cold outside because her jaw locks up — and can't get the military to help with her medical bills. It's one thing to hear that many of the survivors attempt suicide multiple times; it's quite another to watch a husband break down in tears while he remembers having to dial the police with one hand because he was using the other to keep his wife from killing herself.

The Invisible War does gives us some small moments of hope, though. Seeing these women tell their stories, standing up to the most powerful institution in the history of the world, is about as brave and inspiring a thing as you're ever going to see. Some of them come together in the film, finding support in each other when they decide to launch a lawsuit against the Pentagon's top brass (which has been unsuccessful so far — rape, the American courts ab-fucking-surdly claim, is an occupational hazard). And there's also the modest dose of good news director Kirby Dick (the same guy who did Outrage and This Film Is Not Yet Rated) offered in the Q&A after Saturday's screening: in the time since the film debuted at Sundance, the Pentagon has taken at least one small encouraging step, allowing soldiers to report sexual assault further up the chain of command, so at least now it's not their own unit commander they have to talk to.

That's also, however, clearly not enough. Not even close to enough. If you're American, you can sign the petition here. And the film's website has plenty of other ways you can help. You can like them on Facebook (here) or follow them on Twitter (here).

- Adam Bunch

The Invisible War plays again on Saturday May 5 at 3:15 pm at the Bloor Cinema. Tickets here.

Find all of our coverage of Hot Docs 2012 here. 

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


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